23 August 2018
World Meeting of families

Card. Blase Cupich (Chicago), “The Dignity and Beauty of Sexual Love: Finding New Language for Ancient Truths”

Our society has accustomed us to an egocentric view of sexual love. However, as Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia, “sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity” (Amoris Laetitia no.151). As such, sexuality connects us beyond ourselves. Cardinal Blase Cupich (Chicago) recalled this in his intervention during the second session of the Pastoral Congress organized for the Dublin World Meeting of Families (21-26 August). “It is a great irony,” comments Chicago’s Archbishop, “that the so-called free sexuality of a large part of contemporary culture, in fact, restricts and isolates those who practice it.” Cupich observed that sexuality and eros are intimately connected. “The sexual love that pushes people beyond themselves is marked by an incomparable dignity and beauty,” he emphasized, “while detached eroticism, on the other hand, because it isolates and hinders our ability to connect with others, deprives us of the freedom to be completely human.” He then quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who in the Deus Caritas Est” noted that there is a path for growing as healthy and balanced sexual beings. “That path is integration,” explained Card. Cupich, “it is neither only the spirit nor the body that loves: it is a man, a person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves.” How, then, can we progress on this path of the integration of body and soul, so that sexual love is true, dignified, and beautiful? The Archbishop of Chicago finds the answer to this question once again in Amoris Laetitia, where Pope Francis, drawing on the Word of God, indicates three elements that “can move sexual love towards its authentic goal, in the final analysis, the vital communion with God and each other.”

These three elements are communication, moderation, and mission. The cardinal, then, quoted several testimonies, according to which communication is “the most important ingredient in a successful marriage or for healing a marital relationship that has been wounded.” This idea originated in the Song of Songs. “The two lovers,” he underlined, “before sharing their bodies, share their desires. Their word, their mutual desire puts them in communication. This is so important in a world in which sexuality can degenerate into exploitation, an exercise of self-gratification, that Pope Francis rightly compares to violence and manipulation (AL nos. 153-157).” Here, then, “couples who are not afraid to explicitly communicate their mutual desires open the way to communion,” through “communication marked by honest and attentive listening.” “In pornography,” notes Card. Cupich, “there is no mutual communication, no shared desire, and no movement towards communion. In fact, the exact opposite prevails. People are led to oppressive isolation.” In the history of Christian spirituality and theology, “concupiscence” has been associated with negative or sinful desire. The Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, redesigned this concept. “He helped us to understand it as a spontaneous desire,” explains card. Cupich, “According to Rahner, concupiscence is our spontaneous tendency to ‘reach out and grasp’ anything for ourselves. There may also be distortions of concupiscence, particularly in the realm of sexuality, especially if, instead of creating a communion with another person, it becomes selfish grasping for our gratification.”

Hence, “concupiscence needs to be redeemed, just like so many dimensions of our life. This is the work of grace,” emphasizes Card. Cupich, recalling how in Gaudete et Exsultate Pope Francis warns us against the false illusion of being able to save ourselves with our human effort alone. Let it be clear that free human cooperation with God’s grace is also necessary.” In Amoris Laetitia (no. 148), Pope Francis offers some very useful tips on formation and moderation regarding sexual love. Card. Cupich also recalled that man needs to learn moderation through practice, and not only with regard to sexual activity. “There are realities like supporting sports or a hobby or a form of entertainment that, invading family life, isolate people,” he observed, “Take, for example, your phone. These individual forms of pleasure and entertainment can block communication and, therefore, limits must also be drawn. Accordingly, a part of the language that supports the dignity and beauty of sexual love will inevitably be that of moderation, training, or formation.” The third concept—that of the mission, which is a “public” concept—actually seems to clash with that of “sexuality,” which is reserved for the couple’s intimate and private sphere. Yet, it is precisely the intimate and private love that, according to the Archbishop of Chicago, “solidifies and stimulates the spouses in their relationship, so that they become both a testimony of how much love can accomplish in the world and a sacramental source for various forms of human communion.” Consequently, love is active in the world, the “missionary dimension” of sexual love manifests itself through the public testimony of its fruits. “Sexual love,” comments Card. Cupich, “has a mission in the world.”

“This mission contributes to the dignity and beauty of conjugal sexual love.” Evoking St. Paul’s hymn to love, which is commented by Pope Francis in chapter four of Amoris Laetitia, Card. Cupich emphasized how “spousal and family love has a mission and becomes a modeling force in the world. Its roots are deep in God’s love and in the passionate sexual love of married partners.” According to Chicago’s Archbishop, Amoris Laetitia opens many horizons for reflection on the sexual love of married couples—starting from the concepts of communication, moderation, and mission. “This is certainly not,” he concluded, “the language of lay commentators on sexuality. It is, however, a language that draws inspiration from the sources of faith, especially Jesus’ extraordinary words: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”